Dylan Bauer: Developing York

In Episode 4 of our “Catalysts” series, we chat with Dylan Bauer of Royal Square Development and Construction.


In Episode 4 of our “Catalysts” series, we chat with Dylan Bauer of Royal Square Development and Construction. We’ll talk about his ventures in Chilly Dilly, the last conversation he had with Louis Appell and his response to being called a “gentrifier” and a “whitewasher.”


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Part 1: Early days of Chilly Dilly's

Rebecca: Today, Dylan Bauer is the President of Development at Royal Square Development and Construction who’s behind much of the visual progress we’ve seen popping up around downtown York from REVI Flats in the old Weinbrom building to some of the spaces in Royal Square like the Bond building and Taste Test.

But before he was flipping buildings he was head of the Chilly Dilly’s Ice Cream Truck Enterprise. Can you talk a little bit, Dylan, about how that got started for you?

Dylan: Sure. Well thanks for having me on the show. It’s really cool and I’m glad you’re doing this, this is fun.

Chilly Dilly’s. Chilly Dilly’s was my first real company. I had little companies when I was in high school, like mowing lawns and stuff but my name being Dylan, I started Chilly Dilly’s Ice Cream in 2004. I bought my first truck out of New York and I saved up, I had five grand saved up.

I bought it and I made it just outside of Philly before it broke down. At the time this was when I had my Motorola Razr, I think. That was pre-iPhone.

And I was calling everybody I know to be like, “Yeah man, I bought the truck. I’m coming down the interstate.”

My phone died, so my truck died, my cell phone was dead and I actually used one of those solar-powered phones on the side of the road. And I got it towed back.

The mechanic said, “You should never have been drivin’ this thing, so I’m surprised you made it as far as you did.”

And I got it home and scrapped it for 500 bucks. So, my first week in business I lost all my cash.

Eventually I went through a few banks and our new bank downtown, York Traditions Bank, gave me my first loan for $24,000, and I bought a 1971 Good Humor truck, which I drove for, well it was in my company for seven years, but yeah, it was my baby.

Part 2: Mr. Bigshot's profit lesson

Rebecca: So how far did you get with Chilly Dilly’s?

Dylan: Well, like I said, we were in business for seven years. In my peak we had 26 or 28 employees. We had two companies: we had Chilly Dilly’s and we had Sun Sno.

Sun Sno was a solar-powered snowball stand that we put in parking lots outside of like Giant-anchored centers or grocery stores, and we would use solar power to power the machine and produce snowballs. And it was a really cool system.

I had ’em down to cup count system because theft is one of your biggest problems in business especially in restaurants, and I can count the cups. I knew how many cups were in there when we started and how many were at the end of the day. And I told ’em, you eat as many snowballs as you want, but if there’s a cup missing too many times you’re outta here. And it worked.

So, I did that and I, eventually I realized that I made more money… it’s true, I made more money as a single operator than I did when I had employees. And when I was in college I would gross around 40 to 45,000 in revenue and I was takin’ home 20 to 25 grand profit off of that.

When I graduated college and I bought three more trucks, we had four trucks on the road, Mr. Bigshot here took himself out of the driver’s seat because I don’t need to drive a truck, you know, now I got these four trucks and employees, we did just over 300,000 in revenue and I, the business owner, made I think, 6000.

So I had to move back in with my parents’ basement and that whole thing. But I learned and grew the company for a while until we sold it in 2000, 12, I think?

Part 3: A year to forget

Rebecca: Okay, so when you were 25, we had talked before about how that was a rough year for you, and a learning experience. You were sued by Central Market. You were sued by Dairy Queen. And you were practically broke. What were some of the business lessons that you learned…

Dylan: And my girlfriend of eight years dumped me.

Rebecca: Well, we weren’t gonna mention that for you…

Dylan: No, it was fine. It was one of those moments where you learned a lot about. I remember, and also I didn’t mention this, but I remember I had to get my mom to take me to the dental hygienist, or whatever you go to get your wisdom teeth taken out? And it was like, you know, ’cause you’re gonna go under with anesthesia.

And I’m like my roommate was moving out of my apartment, so it was all these where I’m like, well, I guess it’s just gonna be what it is.

But yeah, it was an interesting time and I’m glad that happened, because it forced me to kind of go back and talk to some people that had helped me along the way, whether I knew it or not.

One of the ventures we had at Chilly Dilly’s is we opened a stand at Central Market and we actually made ice cream products, like little ice cream sandwiches and nutty buddys. They were the best nutty buddys ever.

But what it did is it leveraged me into these relationships. Like I met a friend of mine who’s still a friend, I saw him Thursday, or Saturday actually, Bill Swartz.

He was one of the first guys that really charged for downtown, and he was the one that said, Dylan, you should get into real estate. And I was like, I don’t know, man, that’s not me. I don’t want to be… I pictured real estate as baking’ cookies, having’ open houses and he said, “No, no, no, “commercial real estate.”

And that kinda pushed me into that world. But it was, it took, I think, all those things to sorta happen for me to say, OK, let me look at my situation.

I remember that… I remember this: the Phils were in the playoffs and I was all down in the dumps ’cause of all these things so I went to Philly and I stayed with some friends of mine who worked during’ the day and I went to the Locust Bar at 10th and Locust and watched playoff baseball and just hung out for the day until my buddies got off work.

And I just thought through everything and I thought, you know what? I can get out of this and I kinda made a plan at that little divey bar. And then ended up selling both my companies that following spring, after liquidating all the assets and then eventually finding a job at Rock Commercial.

Part 4: Meeting Mr. Appell

Rebecca: Okay, so before we get into your real estate career, which was kind of the next big phase of your life, while you were still a vendor at Central Market you met someone who was a pretty prominent character in York … that many people have not had the opportunity to be as close to as perhaps you were. Introduce us to that person and how you first met him.

Dylan: Well, we’re talking’ about Mr. Louis Appell. And Mr. Appell was… You know, I heard about him as a kid. I heard of his name. I remember being young enough to hear the Susquehanna Communications guy talking with my parents about the sale of SusCom. And I think it sold for 1.2 billion, with a B, to Comcast.

So, I heard of this man, and I always heard that, you know, he went by Mr. Appell. You know, even like his closest advisors, it was Mr. Appell.

So, I was working at Central Market and I had this girl, Megan, working for me, and I remember seeing who I thought was Mr. Appell and thinking, “Oh my gosh, like Mr. Appell. He probably never comes to Central Market.”

So, I pulled up his image online and I said, Megan, “I want you to go over and see if that guy is the same as this guy on the laptop.”

She’s like, “What am I…”

“Just do it.”

So, she goes and she comes back. She’s like, “Dylan, I don’t know.”

I said, “Alright, well, this is probably my only chance.”

I had no idea the man went there almost every single week.

So I went up and I said, you know, “Excuse me, sir, are you Mr. Appell?”

This is like my second week after being open.

And he said, “I am.”

I said, “My name’s Dylan, I have this new ice cream stand here at Central Market called Chilly Dilly’s. I think you bought some of my product today. I just wanted to introduce myself and hope for a chance maybe to ask you questions about downtown and business.”

And he paused and he said, “Sure, 845-2300. Give me a call Monday.”

And I’m like, “OK!”

And I ran away like I just got, you know, a girl’s phone number. I mean I was so excited and happy.

And I did, I called, I set up the meeting and I remember going there and I met with him in his conference room. He had little Fig Newtons on the table, little cups of water. And we spent the better part of a half hour just I was telling’ him my story, where I was coming’ from.

I asked him lots of questions about downtown and the businesses he was involved in and he was very limited in his responses, but he was very cordial and nice. And I asked if I could follow-up.

And so, I did a few months later and I did that two or three times until I let him know, I said, “Mr. Appell, I don’t want anything, I really do enjoy your connection to downtown York and your knowledge of business. If you don’t mind me keeping this up, I’d love to keep bringing you ice cream and hearing your story.”

Part 5: "A fellow by the name Josh Hankey"

Dylan (continued): And so we did that almost on a quarterly basis, and I made these products called Cho-Chos. It was a chocolate malt ice cream pop. They were real simple but he loved ’em, so he’d buy ’em by, you know, the dozen. And even after I closed Chilly Dilly’s I had a vendor, I had a friend of mine in Reading who made Cho-Chos. Actually the man that taught me the recipe. So I would order them once a year I’d get, you know, a couple hundred and I’d distribute them to people that I worked with and I’d always take a good 50 or so to Mr. Appell’s office.

He just thought it was the greatest thing. It was a neat experience to meet him and what it did lead. What I realize, not asking for anything, how it paid off for me.

I mentioned that time when I, you know, I said, OK what am I gonna do? And I remembered Bill Swartz saying, you need to get into real estate, no, commercial real estate.

I asked around. You need to talk to David Bode at Rock. And I heard this two or three times. I thought, alright, I’m gonna go talk to Mr. Appell and he’s got, you know, Susquehanna Real Estate, I’m sure he’ll, you know, give me… I’ll get a new car and fancy title or something.

I didn’t really know they were winding down that part of the business as much, but when I asked him what he thought I should do, he said, “You need to call Rock.”

And I thought, “All right.”

And he said, “You want me to make the phone call for you?”

And I’m like, yeah, “OK.”

So he called over to Rock, I got the interview the next day. I sat down with Mr. Bode and we spent a good three, four hours just doing’ the interview process, a couple of personality tests, and I had the job offer the very next day.

So it was neat to have experienced the time with this man who I consider a role model, had spent that much time dedicated to York and I really, truly just enjoyed his presence.

And so I went to work for Rock right there after, and I kept my relationship strong with Mr. Appell. And to maybe carry on to the next segue, I, at one point, he said, “Do you know a fellow by the name Josh Hankey?”

And I said, “Yeah, I do. We occasionally have ran into each other before.”

And he said, “You two should spend more time together.”

And that sort of pushed us together, and when we tell the story we’re Miller Lite buddies. We just got Miller Lite at Bistro 19 and we’d talk about how this is wrong and that landlord should be doin’ this and we gotta clean up that.

And eventually, after three years at Rock Josh said, “Hey, I could use your help over here, would you come work for me?”

And I did that now four plus years ago and that was before a lot of what’s happened downtown.

We’ve successfully completed one New Market Tax Credit project and we’re on our second, we’re about to complete our second this December. So it’s been a pretty fun ride.

Part 6: A Louis Appell Christmas story

Rebecca: When we had met previously you told an interesting story about being in Royal Square District. And doing something that would kind of warm the heart of Mr. Appell with something in particular that he really enjoyed … where you put up the Christmas lights. Why did that mean something to him and why did you decide to do it in a way to kind of do something that was warming to him?

Dylan: Well, what he’s done for York is priceless. I mean, he’s done so much. I mean he bought the Strand twice, I think. He saved it from becoming a parking lot. He bought The Yorktowne, I think, two times, or maybe just once, but he loved Christmas. That was his holiday.

And to the extent that I remember being in the car with Josh when we got a phone call from him saying “Why is there not a Christmas tree in the turret over on Duke Street?”

And we’re like, “I don’t know, sir.”

And so we hung up the phone and we got on there, got over to Lowe’s and we got a Christmas tree up there as quickly as possible.

So, Christmas was always a big holiday for him and it was so neat to see his passion for that. We had this idea, it was actually Alex Dwyer’s idea, Alex DeVoe now, but she had the idea, and we quickly penciled it out, figured out the cost, found the help to do it, and we outlined all the doors and windows in Royal Square in Christmas lights.

And then on Christmas Eve his son and daughter, Lou and Helen, said, “Come on, Dad, we’re going’ for a drive.”

“Where we going’ at nine o’clock on Christmas Eve?”

“Just trust me.”

And they came down Duke Street and I remember we were waiting there, and he and Jody got out of the car and it was almost… I mean he was near tears. It was just so cool.

And he just, “This is unbelievable. I can’t believe this. How did you do this?”

And we were so worried because the weeks before you know, Mr. Appell would always drive around to go through the different neighborhoods, always checking on things. And I thought, how has he not realized all these electricians on ladders hanging Christmas lights?

But we did, and he never said anything and I truly he think he didn’t pick up on it.  And now we turn ’em on every year as a little bit of a tribute, so it’s a neat thing we got to do and he got to be a part of there for a few years.

Part 7: Sources of a vision

Rebecca: You’ve expressed admiration for a lot of his vision for what he wanted York to be. Did you feel any of that yourself when you started getting into the real estate?

Dylan: Yes, very much so. So, when I was at Chilly Dilly’s I was a cigarette smoker, and I did that for I think 10 or 12 years. Now three plus years without a cigarette, but stress, man. You just, it’s something’ I gravitated to.

So when I was at Chilly Dilly’s and ice cream, we didn’t sell a lot in the winter, we were a little slow. So I’d still be open, but and I didn’t want people to know I smoked. So, I would wander around and look for new hiding spots, and I remember looking at certain buildings just thinking, “What in this world? Why has no one done anything with this? Why is?”

And, this is again, 2010, so it’s eight years ago, but it’s remarkable to see how far it’s come. But yeah, I think that was a lot of my questions and a lot of times when I spent time with him I asked him, ’cause he knew everything.

And he had a memory I can’t believe and he knew who bought what when, how. So yeah, there was a lot of admiration of the buildings downtown. And I guess for myself, the vision, having a lot of school in Philadelphia and enjoying travel and just always being kind of curious about how things work.

I always had a question about why certain parts of our city were the way they were.

I use the example when I compare, people often ask me where, you know, the difference in downtown and how far it’s come. And my perspective is slightly limited. I mean I opened up my ice cream stand in 2009, I think downtown. And I remember the time that, and we stayed open year-round, even though we would make maybe 15, $20 on a First Friday in December.

But we would do these First Fridays and I remember the time that Downtown Inc was actually with clickers, like counters. They were keeping track of the number of people that would come through. And First Friday at that time was from Kimman’s, the southeast corner of Beaver and Philly down to the alleyway, which is now Sunrise Soap. That was it, about a half block.

And we had a thousand people come down and we were excited. And now we hit 10,000 people per month in stride to the point where Downtown Inc is like we can’t track this.

We can give a gauge but we can’t track it. So the vision was, I mean, I’m a small part in this whole thing, but there is vision there and I think to me, I look now to the first block of South Beaver Street. Now the second block of South Beaver Street.

You know, I’ve been a Green Bean customer for, you know, I moved downtown 2009 or 10 so I’ve been a Green Bean customer since they previously when it was King and Beaver. The Cafe, King and Beaver? And that was always an island to me and now with the redevelopment of Weinbrom and REVI Flats and the connectivity to where City Hall was and now it’s the police station.

We’re watching that bend happen and it’s really exciting. And I encourage everybody to get involved. I mean, the properties on South. The 100 block of South Beaver Street, 100 block of South Pershing, they’re beautiful and they’re great single-family homes that can be bought still at inexpensive prices.

And that’s what we gotta do to change, to move this city forward we need more homeownership downtown. And that’s, it’s really there, because anytime a property comes online in the downtown it’s gone very quickly.

Part 8: A final conversation

Rebecca: The area that you’re talking about, you know, Beaver Street there, there’s been a lot of changes there most recently, you know, you mentioned some of the buildings that have seen redevelopment, new things popped up. It ties in a little bit to your relationship with Louis and the last conversation that you had with him. Can you tell us about that?

Dylan: Yeah, it’s a sad, I mean it’s not sad, it’s actually pretty great to have that moment.

So, I remember December of ’15 there was a bit of a scare but it wasn’t clear. Mr. Appell’s condition… and he would never, ever speak of it. And after he was better, out of the hospital, January, February, he was still going’ to work, you know, 9 to 3, four to five days a week, 90 years old.

And he was going to work and I’d see him ’cause he drove right by my office. And it was… I’d like to say he passed in June, I think it was probably late April or early May… Downtown Inc had a…

It was Downtown Inc and Royal Square were invited to his box for a day game, a baseball game in the day. And he was sitting out front and like you know he would, he kept, he had one of those box scorers, he kept every single one. -And that’s how he tracked the game.

And so I remember seeing’ him there, and I had really exciting news because at the time our company had been courting Isaac’s Famous Sandwiches to move downtown. And it was hard to think that a regional chain would ever consider downtown. And we as a community had everybody there, invited them, and it was a really cool, collaborative effort to get them to commit to downtown.

And I remember goin’ up to him and sayin’ “Hey, Mr. Appell, how are you?”

And he said, “Hey, Chilly.”

And he always called my Chilly, it was my nickname.

And I said, “Mr. Appell, we got Isaac’s.”

He said, “What?”

I said, “Yep, it’s not quite signed but it’s a deal, I can tell ya’ that.”

He goes, “Get outta here. That’s awesome. Great job.”

I said, “Thanks, how are you doing’?”

And he said, “Well, I’ve got a beer, watching’ baseball in the middle of the day, can’t get much better than this.”

And I, it was great, and I said, “I’ll talk to you soon.”

That was the last time I got to speak with him. And you know what? That’s a great last way for me.

I mean, it was, it was, he was just an inspiration on so many levels. On so many levels. So and I truly wish now two-plus years since his passing that he could see what… It’s not just the building stock that’s changed, it’s the overall community, just excitement.

There’s an overall energy that you feel when you’re downtown, from the restaurants that are opening up to the people that are moving downtown to the businesses that are moving into the area. And it’s lasting commitment. There’s, I don’t hear as much speculation.

Part 9: A "gentrifier" and "whitewasher"

Rebecca: Sure, yeah. So, with all the things that have been popping up, I mean, it’s been an incredible transformation to, you know, even for me personally, to see a lot of the changes that have happened.

It’s interesting in York that it doesn’t come without you know, sometimes criticism. And you yourself have kind of faced some of that, unfortunately, with some of the projects that you’ve done where you’ve been called a “gentrifier” or a “whitewasher” and you even mentioned that, to your face.

Not just online, but to your face, that that’s been mentioned to you. I mean what is your response to being called those names? How do you respond to people?

Dylan: Well, it’s you know, it’s something that we need to be concerned with and inclusion is an absolute necessity to the conversation.

And I don’t think that we could… we can always so a better job of it. What I’ve been able to see from my perspective in the real estate development side, in the past 18 months we’ve seen about 160 new apartments come to downtown. They were vacant buildings before.

So although it is gentrification, which has become a negative term, I don’t know why, if you look it up, I mean, it’s still it’s the rebirthing of a building or an area. And that is what we’re seeing, but what I’m most excited about is that we’ve not, I mean there have been times where we’ve had to find alternative locations for people and we give six months’ notice and we help them and we’ll pay for the move if we need to.

Sometimes in development that’s what we have to do. We make sure that we do everything we can to be as helpful as possible.

But I point out that 160 net new apartments in downtown York in the past 18 months. They were vacant buildings and there are still a lot of vacant buildings. And I encourage anybody that can get into this downtown.

I mean there is a lot more possibility than I think anyone realized, in converting office space into residences or sometimes simply just bringing apartments back online that previously had no chance of being rented just because of the conditions.

We just finished on Friday, we opened the Haines building which is catty-corner from the Yorktowne and that building, it had 10, well, it had six apartments and a second floor office so we renovated the upstairs apartments, I mean a true renovation. They were uninhabitable. And then we renovated the second floor which was office and we renovated that back into apartments.

So together we added 10 apartments to downtown to a building that has been vacant for, except for H&R Block, it’s been vacant for about 15 years.

And the upper floor’s been vacant for much longer than that. One neat thing though, on Friday I think we had two or three different residents that previously occupied the space come to see it.

One woman told me she paid $230 for an apartment that we’re now renting for about $1295. So again, introductory pricing on apartments is always gonna be a little bit higher. The market, you can’t compare to 25 years ago to today.

It is is neat. And she was blown away by it. We do a lot of work with federal and state historic tax credits.

And for that, like this building that we’re in today [Marketview Arts], a lot of times you must keep the historical integrity of the building, so doors, windows, trim. A lot of our building has some really great molding.

We have the best carpenters in York, and I’ll put ’em up against anybody. And for that we have a skill set in that area and we were able to bring a lot of these, the historic components, back to the building. And it’s just, it’s crisp. You go through there and you see the old history and you get to see what it was like when they built it in 1926.

Part 10: What York needs next

Rebecca: All these projects have taken place, you’ve either been involved or watched some of these things happen, and York’s come a long way in a short period of time, but what do you think the next thing is? What do you think York still needs to kind of keep the momentum going or kind of get to that next level?

Dylan: We need more of everything. We need more people. I would argue we still need more restaurants, maybe a more different variety. But more people, number one.

More office, we need more offices to commit to downtown. Yes, taxes are high. We all know that.

But there are amenities here that you can’t get outside of the city and there are prices here that are lower than you could ever get outside the city. So, we need more daytime, we need more nighttime population and one thing that I’m working on that is gonna take a while, but we’ve talked with The Food Trust out of Philadelphia is, I’d love to see a grocery store downtown.

I do patronize CTown, if anyone is from CTown listening. I can’t buy English muffins at CTown, and I make a pretty good English muffin breakfast sandwich a few days a week. And you know, I have a deodorant that I happen to like that I can’t get there.

So, these little things that I think we can get there. I know a lot of the members of Central Market are committed to bringing more produce downtown.

I think it’s the answer is more, and that’s good. I want to, as a resident myself, a business owner downtown, I want to have more options selfishly.

For my breakfast, lunch, dinner, entertainment needs. So it’s happening. I mean, we’ve come a long way in just 10 years. So I can’t wait to see the next 10.

I always had a question about why certain parts of our city were the way they were.

Dylan Bauer On his vision for York

“Catalysts” is a production of Our York Media. The project was funded in part by the YorIt Social Venture Challenge Grant from the York County Community Foundation. Our title sponsor is York College of Pennsylvania Center for Community Engagement with support from Stock and Leader Attorneys at Law. This show is hosted by Rebecca Hanlon and produced by Will Hanlon and Caleb Robertson.

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